Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Metropolis (2001) - Robots and Humans Learning to Live Together

Metropolis: The Ending is a Real Downer

Metropolis original film poster
The trippy DVD cover really captures the spirit of "Metropolis."
"Metropolis" (2001) is a Bandai Visual Company animated film. It is based on a 1949 manga (comic book) of Osamu Tezuka. He is a legend among many, many graphic artists, his reputation extending well beyond the relatively small community of Japanese anime illustrators.

Metropolis 2001 The Ziggurat

Stanley Kubrick, for instance, asked Tezuka to help with the artwork in 2001: A Space Odyssey, though he ultimately declined. Tezuka, however, was too busy leading the prestigious "Mushi Productions" animation studio which was a leader in bringing animation to television (some of its hits were "Frosty the Snowman," "Astro Boy," and "Kimba the White Lion" - which many see as the inspiration for "The Lion King").

Metropolis 2001

Tezuka had a pronounced western orientation that inspired him to adapt Disney films and other works that were not traditionally Japanese. This film, "Metropolis," is one such adaptation of a western classic. It clearly derives from the 1927 Fritz Lang German silent film of the same name, though it layers on many additional themes that give this "Metropolis" a completely new identity.

Metropolis 2001 The Ziggurat
The Ziggurat.
In Metropolis, humans and robots maintain an uneasy coexistence. Robots are generally poor, while many people are unemployed and blame robots. Duke Red (Taro Ishida) is a human leader who has built the "Ziggurat," a massive building designed to make life easier for everyone. Duke, though, has a secret: there's a superweapon hidden in the Ziggurat.

Metropolis 2001 Kenichi
Kenichi wa?
Rock (Koki Okada) is Duke's adoptive son. He protects his father, but when he learns that Duke has hired Dr. Laughton (Junpei Takiguchi) to build an advanced super-robot, Tima (Yuka Imoto), based on his own deceased daughter whom he dearly loved, he is horrified and shoots the robot's builder and burns down the laboratory.

Metropolis 2001 Tima showing circuits
Tima revealed for what she is.
Meanwhile, a private detective investigating Dr. Laughton, Shinsaku Ban (Kosei Tomita), and his nephew Kenichi (Kei Kobayashi) find Laughton before he dies. Laughton gives him his plans for Tima. Kenichi, meanwhile, finds and rescues Tima, who is complete, and they bond and (eventually) fall in love.

Metropolis 2001 Tima with dove
Tima with a dove.
Rock finds out what happened and hunts down Tima and the others. A revolution fails, and Duke assumes dictatorial powers. Rock tries to kill Tima, but Duke - who has transferred his love for his daughter to Tima - then disowns him. Duke then takes Tima back to the Ziggurat, but Rock follows and deactivates Tima.

Metropolis 2001

Shinsauku reactivates her using Laughton's plans, and there follows a confrontation at the top of the Ziggurat between everyone after which Tima becomes power-mad, loses her memory and tries to destroy humanity. Kenichi, though, tries reasoning with her based on their earlier relationship as the world collapses around them.

Metropolis 2001 cityscape
Futuristic cityscape.
 A lot of top talent worked on this film. Akira creator was a screenwriter, and the director was Rintaro, famous in anime circles.  There also is an English version voiced by Robert Axelrod, Steve Blum, William Knight and Dave Mallow (among many others). The soundtrack is old-fashioned jazz music composed by Toshiyuki Honda that gives the proceedings a retro and, for western audiences, comfortable feel.

Metropolis 2001 building interior
The visuals really hearken back to the original film.
Everybody seems to like the film, though it did not make much money by Hollywood standards. That may have been partly caused by the unfortunate coincidence of its release soon after the September 11, 2001, attack, to which some scenes bear an uncanny resemblance. The story is fairly predictable, but the animation is of the highest caliber.  There is a mix of 2D and 3D, with the 3D used sparingly. The colors change from pastels in the peaceful opening scenes to dark and vivid colors as things get desperate.

Metropolis 2001 main characters
What a motley crew!
The characters are drawn with realistic detail, though peoples' heads are usually very round. There is some violence, which got the film a PG-13 rating. People in the business know this is a truly epic animation film, despite its lack of renown.

Metropolis 2001 street scene
Vibrant, dark, edgy colors.
The film differs a bit from the original manga. The look of the 1927 film is emphasized, and the idea of class struggle from the earlier film is used. The robot, Tima, is made more conventional than in the manga (in which it could, among other things, fly and change its gender).

Metropolis 2001 ziggurat and other buildings
It looks a bit like NYC already does, actually.
"Metropolis" is for fans of animation, as opposed to animation films that will make you laugh at all the funny, cuddly creatures with strange eyes and witty quips. It is a serious film, full of surprising emotion, alone in a sea of Pixar and DreamWorks comedies. It becomes incredibly sad at the end. As such, it may seem even more alien than it is. The music, though, will draw you in. If you are interested in a serious animation film, or just want to see an interesting story told in spectacular fashion by all-star talent, this is a good evening's view.

Metropolis 1927
A blast from the past - a quick shot fro the 1927 original.


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